WASHINGTON — A starkly divided House of Representatives on Wednesday impeached President Donald Trump, making him only the third U.S. president to suffer that fate.
In votes at 8:34 and 8:51 p.m., the House approved two articles of impeachment, one for abuse of power and one for obstruction of Congress, almost 21 years to the day after President Bill Clinton was impeached. Many lawmakers voted with red or green cards, rare in a chamber that usually votes electronically. They appeared to want to save the papers as mementos.
The votes, almost strictly along party lines, came after a daylong debate that reflected the divisions — over the president’s conduct, and also over basic facts — that have come to define American politics.
After the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California suggested to reporters that she might wait to send the articles to the Senate as Democrats seek what they consider a fair trial there.
Nearly every Democrat supported both articles, charging Trump for pressing Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden while withholding vital military aid, as well as obstructing the House’s probe. However, one of the party’s presidential candidates, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, voted “present.” Every Republican opposed the impeachment in a show of support for the president.
Pelosi, wearing a black dress and a gold pin of the Mace of the Republic, a symbol of the House’s authority, opened the debate by saying lawmakers had gathered to “exercise one of the most solemn powers that this body can take.”
“If we do not act now, we will be derelict in our duty,” Pelosi said. “It is tragic that the president’s reckless actions make impeachment necessary. He gave us no choice."
She said “it is a matter of fact” that Trump “is an ongoing threat to our national security and the integrity of our elections, the basis of our democracy."
A short time later, Trump responded on Twitter: “SUCH ATROCIOUS LIES BY THE RADICAL LEFT, DO NOTHING DEMOCRATS. THIS IS AN ASSAULT ON AMERICA, AND AN ASSAULT ON THE REPUBLICAN PARTY!!!!” It was one of about 50 tweets the president sent Wednesday.
He arrived in Battle Creek, Mich., for one of his signature rallies just as lawmakers neared the vote that would forever mark his presidency. “Doing good,” he said briefly to reporters, and took the stage just as Democrats concluded their arguments and readied the vote.
The impeachment, an action so rare in American history, is sure to leave an indelible mark on Trump’s legacy. Still, unlike the two others who have been impeached, Trump, because he faces the charges in his first term, will get to litigate his case in an election, allowing the public to issue its own verdict on the fight that has split Congress and will almost certainly result in an acquittal by the Republican-controlled Senate.
Despite the gravity of the votes, the outcome had been sapped of drama, its results widely accepted. For much of the day, a sparse public audience watched the debate, and the House floor had mostly empty seats.
But that changed as the debate neared a close after nearly 12 hours. Lawmakers began to heckle one another with boos. The chamber filled. Democratic women, who wore white to Trump’s State of the Union speech in February to celebrate women’s suffrage, mostly wore black Wednesday, following Pelosi’s lead, to mark impeachment.
Republicans wore solid red ties, like the ones Trump favors. “Four more years,” some chanted during the vote.
Lawmakers in each party warned that history would judge the other side darkly. One Republican said Trump had been treated more unfairly than was Jesus.
Democrats will go down as “the Joe McCarthys of our time,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (R., Texas), referring to the infamous senator who tried to railroad suspected communists decades ago. Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana accused Democrats of hating the millions of Americans who voted for Trump.
“He is president today, he will be president tomorrow, and he will be president when this impeachment is over,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) said to cheers from Republicans. “When they accept that, maybe this house can get back to work for the American people."
Republicans repeatedly called the process “a sham” driven by Democrats’ fear of losing the 2020 election, and called it the most partisan impeachment ever, since no Republicans supported it.
Democrats responded that Trump’s actions show he is a threat to that very election.
“When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something, to do something,” said Rep. John Lewis (D., Ga.), an icon of the civil rights movement. "We have a mission and a mandate to be on the right side of history.”
Later, Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) said, “When the history of this period is written, it will show that when my colleagues found that they lacked the courage to stand up to this unethical president, they consoled themselves by attacking those who did.”
Some Democrats began to cheer after the final vote, only to be quieted by a sharp glare from Pelosi.
Rep. Jeff Van Drew of Cape May County was one of two Democrats to vote against both charges, a decision so explosive that he’s expected to become a Republican. In the Trump presidency, as Van Drew’s shift shows, U.S. politics are defined by whether you are with Trump or against him.
Van Drew sat on the Republican side of the aisle during debate, shaking hands with GOP lawmakers and congratulating party leaders on their speeches.
The other Democrat to oppose both charges was Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota. A third Democrat, Colorado’s Jared Golden, voted in favor of the first charge but against the obstruction accusation. Michigan’s Justin Amash, a former Republican who is now an independent, supported both charges.
The first article was approved by 230-197. The second vote was 229-198. Three lawmakers did not vote on either charge.
The votes reflected the broader public, where polls show hardened partisan attitudes on impeachment.
About 48% of Americans believe that Trump should be impeached and removed from office, and 48% say he shouldn’t be, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released hours before the final votes. The numbers were virtually unchanged from late October, before days of televised hearings laying out the evidence.
The day’s events began about 9 a.m..
“This is a democracy-defining moment,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D., Mass.).
Shortly after noon, as debate on the articles formally began, the House reading clerk recited them aloud. “Resolved, that Donald John Trump is impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors,” he began.
Republicans accused Democrats of conducting a rushed, unfair process with too little evidence.
“I believe Democrats are tearing this country apart. They’re tearing families apart,” said Rep. Debbie Lesko (R., Ariz.).
The GOP-led Senate is widely expected to clear Trump in a trial in January, but the issue is sure to reverberate as the president campaigns for reelection and Democrats try to unseat him.
Democrats have accused Trump of abusing his office and undercutting national security by using aid to help Ukraine fend off Russia as leverage to advance his personal political ends.
They have cited the sworn testimony of nonpartisan career diplomats who came to the same understanding: that Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was running a shadow foreign policy focused on the president’s political interests, and that Trump withheld about $400 million in aid and a coveted White House visit from Ukraine’s new president while seeking investigations into Biden and a discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
Democrats say Trump has also obstructed a lawful investigation by refusing to allow top aides to testify or turn over documents that would offer more insight into his actions, and potentially connect the dots laid out by the witnesses who did speak.
Trump, in an open letter Tuesday, said he was putting the country’s interest first, not seeking campaign help, and that his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a conversation at the center of the impeachment, was “totally innocent.”
For the most part, Republicans have not disputed the facts, though they have argued that Trump was within his rights to withhold aid or seek investigations into corruption — even though the president only mentioned Biden and the hacking theory, not wider corruption, in his call with Zelensky.